The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood Part II: Why
Sometime around the age of twelve, the transition begins. While our bodies reach maturity fairly quickly, I am convinced that the vestiges of childhood linger until there is some grave change of heart. It happens in secret and catches many of us by surprise when we realize, long after it has happened, what has taken place. Hence the classic, Baby Boomer mid-life crisis. We, their children, have tended to specialize more in the I-refuse-to-commit-to-what-I’m-doing-for-the-rest-of-my-life “quarter-life crisis.”
What fits of misfortune drive us to the margins of our own hearts?
When I consider the elements of adulthood largely foreign to childhood, I discern duty, success, failure, and physical freedom.
Duty is present in some childhoods, though I would characterize most childhood duty as “negotiable responsibility,” in the sense that it is more optional. No matter how numerous the chores of childhood, the stakes are markedly lower. The presence of dependents – spouse, children, and aging parents – can create a sense that not only is there no “safety net,” but the livelihood of an entire clan is dependent on my ability to fulfill my duty, i.e., to succeed at my career. Those minors who take on such duties lose their sense of childhood the soonest, in ways that will become clear in the second half of this post.
Success, too, is present in some form in the lives of many children. But these accomplishments are without the ambition and mastery achieved by “successful” adults. No child faces the temptation to believe, “I have such control over the task at hand that I am like a god!” Your childhood doodle will probably hang on the fridge no matter what. Your grown-up oil painting could fetch $1.2 million and hang in the Guggenheim.
But the flip-side of success is failure. My heart goes out to any readers who grew up with a sense of abject failure. My guess is that sense was imposed from outside, either directly or indirectly, by adults who were all to cognizant of their own failures and looking for someone to take it out on. As an adult, you have the potential to loose it all. You could “squander” your best years throwing paint on canvas and have nothing more than a handsome debt to show for it.
Adults have great physical freedom, in that we can go and do almost anything humanly possible. But possibility comes at a price. The long list of could quickly becomes rivaled by the long list of shouldn’t. I could go run, but I shouldn’t, because of my bad knees. Our bodies’ slow betrayal renders us the slaves of our own limitations. Adulthood comes at a price.